The ‘Thirty Years on’ Threat to the Falkland Islands will be Economic and Diplomatic Isolation, not Military.
But if Argentina did re-invade, would Britain have the political stomach for such a fight after so many costly wars of choice, acting alone with such emasculated Armed Forces ?
Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs : “ I was told by a Russian general that the Soviets had been firmly convinced that we would not fight for the Falklands and that, if we did fight we would lose. We proved them wrong on both counts and they did not forget the fact.”
Bernard Jenkin MP and George Grant published in July 2011 a brilliant expose for the Henry Jackson Society: ‘ The Tipping Point : British National Strategy and the UK’s Future World Role.’ In debunking the Coalition’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 10), it emphasises ‘ the Power of Perception: if a country is perceived as unwilling to protect its interests then it will find those interests challenged and confronted more, not less often.’
The current South American diplomatic situation is deteriorating for Britain at the hand of Argentina’s President: Mrs Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, newly re-elected until 2015. This paper discusses how her ‘sabre-rattling’ may be just that for the moment but, over decades, may wear down both the ‘Kelpers’, the 3,000 Falkland islanders and London’s resolve to keep them British. It examines the only way for Argentina to retake the islands and the British capability to re-invade. But Argentina’s military is weaker than ever and so is Britain’s. Argentine forces still plan how to seize the Falklands. We have not learned from previous oversights or sloppy intelligence after 1981′s Nott Defence Review slashed the Royal Navy. Britain was to lose both amphibious vessels: Fearless and Intrepid; the carrier Hermes and two of three Invincible class carriers. But axing Endurance, the ice patrol ship, was seen by the Argentine military Junta as a signal of waning British interest in maritime affairs and in the South Atlantic in particular. Thirty years later, SDSR 10 deleted RN carrier strike capability for at least a decade by scrapping Ark Royal, all Harrier aircraft and weakened amphibious capability in men and ships. ‘ Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. ‘
Argentina in 2012 vis a vis Britain
Mrs. Kirchner recently swept to power with her millions’ majority worshipping her wealth distribution policies. But with inflation at over 20 % and her removing the subsidy system that kept prices low, subway tickets rose 250% in January and utility bills by 300%. Social unrest will increase. She craves the foreign policy legacy of starting the process to retrieve ‘Las Malvinas’. Maximum anti-British propaganda is fuelling tension between London and Buenos Aires on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war. Kirchner and her government coterie are inflaming this
regional cause up and down the Americas. Even Hillary Clinton refers to ‘Las Malvinas’! Recent measures include barring import of British goods; changing air links to give Buenos Aires control; new laws turning away all ships supplying Falklands oil and gas exploration; all ships wearing a Falklands flag and cruise liners with British links. UK exports to Argentina are worth £400 million p.a. Argentina threatens a permanent legal team to pursue in Argentine and world courts, all international companies involved in Falklands oil exploration. A side effect from the 1982 war is no international fisheries agreement in the SW Atlantic. So, this season, Argentina told its fishermen to start catching squid earlier in the coastal spawning grounds, thus reducing Falklands vessels’ catches. Squid sales form over half of Falklands GDP. Finally Britain is accused of ‘militarisation’ of the South Atlantic by sending her Type 45 destroyer Dauntless, ‘nuclear armed’ submarines in defiance of international law and Prince William as a ‘conquistador’ to the islands.
Britain in 2012 vis a vis Argentina
Britain is depicted as weak, divided and near-broke by Argentina, while SDSR 10 was a clear signal to friends and foes alike, that we are disarming. Carrier capability is gone for at least a decade as the Future Carrier (CVF) project hits yet another delay and debacle over which F 35 variant aircraft to buy. Europe too, is seen as weak, which same picture of the developed world reduces support for Britain on the Islands issue. HMG remains steadfast in its refusal to negotiate on sovereignty, stressing the matter as one for Kelpers self-determination. In reply to the key question: can Britain still back words with military actions post SDSR, the PM addressed Parliament in January to clarify his approving contingency plans for a rapid increase in Falklands forces. But so much depends upon smarter intelligence than 1982′s disaster and no competing strategic shock.
Costs of the 1982 war
Britain lost 255 combatants and three Kelpers dead, 777 wounded and over 250 traumatised enough by hard and bloody fighting to commit later suicide. Argentina lost 650 dead. Britain lost six ships sunk and fourteen damaged by skilled enemy pilots. Britain claimed destruction or seizure of 109 enemy aircraft: 31 kills by Harrier, 30 destroyed on the ground or captured and the rest shot down by land and ship anti-air weapons. Britain’s cost of the operation itself was £700 million plus £ 900 million for lost ships and planes. The total cost of regaining and holding the Falklands was estimated at £2 billion over four years, in old money. Present estimates put costs of war plus building Fortress Falklands at Mount Pleasant @ £10 billion. Today’s 1,200 South Atlantic service personnel include only 130 infantry, the rest being support staff for four Typhoons, Rapier short range missiles, two mountain radars and one patrol vessel, all costing 0.2% of the defence budget.
SubPlots : Argentina’s President and the Oil Factor.
The very name: ‘Las Malvinas’ is a sharp political tool being used by a scheming operator as both rallying cry and distraction from the parlous state of Argentina’s domestic affairs. With high inflation, the black economy employs some 30% of the population. The Armed Forces are shredded and defence budget slashed. The Navy has ten ships and no carrier. No new aircraft exist since pre 1982, leaving an obsolete mix of planes to take on Typhoons and Rapier missile batteries. However, Exocet missiles are fitted in all surface ships and some aircraft. Some of Argentina’s intelligentsia and political opposition have published an open letter calling on Mrs. Kirchner to rethink her policy towards the islands, recognising her behaviour as picking an unnecessary fight. Further criticism grows on a website letter. Fernando Iglesias, a prominent opposition figure says: “ They want to argue about the islands for ever and ignore the problems at home. This is a country that blames everyone except itself for its problems.”
The British ‘minnow’ operator Rockhopper’s oil discovery as the Sea Lion proven field, requires further appraisal drilling on adjacent blocks to prove up new discoveries in Beverley and Casper South. Estimates are some 8.3 billion barrels- three times UK’s reserves - to be produced from a giant drill ship moored above with 2-3million bbl oil storage, offloaded to smaller tankers from 2016. Further finds are likely in both North and South basins. Since Sea Lion’s news, Argentina’s harassment of the Falklands and Britain has increased as she covets the oil, fish and minerals. Brazil, a huge and technically advanced player in the oil industry, barred all traffic between the Falklands from mid 2011. Neither Britain nor Argentina can yet claim any commercial quantities of oil / gas found off the islands as it belongs to the Falklands. Tankers will ship oil direct to world markets from the production / storage vessel.
Argentina to Seize Oil Group : stop press 17 April 2012.
In a move reported 17 April, Argentina is to renationalise YPF, its biggest oil company, thus ousting the Spanish Repsol as majority shareholder and starting a furious row with Madrid. Mrs.
Fernandez sent a bill to Congress to put 51 % of YPF in state hands. Some analysts estimate this valuation @ $ 5 billion. The grab will cause significant trade, investor and diplomatic fallout in the EU and Latin America and even further.. The Argentine government’s failed energy policy in lowering domestic prices for political expediency lies at the heart of their own loss of energy self-sufficiency. Like the world over, politicians fail to understand that, while oil majors generate lots of cash, they also need proportionate investment. Mrs. Kirchner’s populist appeal is no exception and will increase Argentina’s pariah state reputation. The country can kiss goodbye to being treated seriously again by investors for another generation.
Surprise Attack v. Capability to Counter-Attack:
Major General Julian Thompson, CB, OBE, RM , the 1982 British Land Commander, wrote in the Times on 5 March 2012:
“The only way to retake the islands is after a long period of quietly lowering the temperature – (perhaps hard for Mrs Kirchner) –insert Argentine Special Forces covertly in disguised civil aircraft. They assume airfield control, destroy the four Typhoons and crater the runway to prevent planned long-distance British reinforcements landing. Enough space remains for smaller planes reinforcing Argentine troops. Despite decay of their military, Argentina has one brigade each of Marines and Paratroops and good Special Forces.” Britain has insufficient RN, RFA or merchant ships to re-invade and no carrier with vital air support. Game over! It is questionable whether the British Parliament and public, would sanction more war by sea invasion after over a decade of ‘Blair’s Wars and Brown’s Budgets’ in Iraq and Afghanistan especially.
Diplomatic and Economic Conclusions:
Argentina is too weak to fight and excludes her military from politics. She is playing every available trick: blockades, trade embargoes and diplomatic deceit to isolate the islands internationally, especially regionally. She will then try to drag HMG to negotiate sovereignty, which is not on Britain’s agenda..Expect more ‘ megaphone diplomacy ‘ from this nationalist
leader who will not have bargained for her monologue-foreign policy perhaps attracting eventual opprobrium from the neighbours and definite defiance from the Kelpers. Standing alone as never before, Britain has huge diplomatic work to do throughout South America., in Europe and the UN.
As in 1982, however, the fate of the Falklands may prove ‘ a close run thing.’
By Richard Little
Richard Little “Former Seaman Officer with much time in the Far East and Middle East,
augmented at a later date by working out of the Arabian Gulf in the energy
industry. ‘ Flags ‘ to Commander Far East Fleet : Vice Admirals Sir Desmond
Dreyer and Sir Frank Twiss 1964 – 65 – during Confrontation. XO of two FFs.
Thirty years as a contractor for pre-eminent companies designing and
building oil and gas pipelines on and offshore worldwide, fuelled
fascination for geopolitics, foreign affairs and ‘ funny places.’
Published author in : the Naval Review ; Warships International Fleet
Review and Nautilus International ‘s Telegraph – ( who commissioned this
article on the Falklands issue ). Many Letters to the Editor published in
the Times and the Daily Telegraph in recent years on defence, naval and
maritime matters. Member of : RUSI ; the Naval Review; the UKNDA;
Maritime Foundation; the Henry Jackson Society;
the Anglo-Somali Society and the Anglo-Omani Society.
Currently involved in counter-piracy after voyage in early 2011 to the
Arabian Gulf by container vessel to see for myself how the world’s navies
were or were not coping with piracy. As reported in the NR August 2011.
List of Sources : offered only for information :
- Main Broadsheets : FT, Times , Telegraph
- Sunday Times , Independent on Sunday
- RUSI Journal, RUSI Defence Systems and RUSI Newsbrief
- Naval Review
- Warships International Review
- The Henry Jackson Society : in particular – Paper published July 2011: The Tipping Point: British National Strategy and the UK’s Future World Role. By
Bernard Jenkin MP and George Grant.
- UKNDA Report: ‘ Inconvenient Truths – Threats Justify Prioritising Defence ‘:
September 2011. Foreword by Bernard Jenkin MP;
Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon
General Sir Michael Rose
Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham
Air Commodore Andrew Lambert
Allen Sykes esq.,
- Phoenix Think Tank : The Strategic Defence and Security Review: a critique
Dr. Duncan Redford
- UKNDA Discussion Paper: ‘ History Repeating… The Falklands at Risk Again’.
31 March 2012.
Major-General Julian Thompson RM
Captain Michael Clapp RN
Air Commodore Andrew Lambert RAF
The Spectator, 29 March 2012: ‘ A new Argy-bargy ‘ by John Simpson, BBC
World Affairs Editor
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